President Bush is scheduled to attend Martin Luther King Jr. Day services at First Baptist Church of Glenarden this morning, leaving the pastor and some parishioners talking about the president's recently announced policy about affirmative action.
"I agree with the president's stand on fighting the war against terrorism," the Rev. John K. Jenkins said yesterday. "He has an awesome task, a lot of challenges have been placed in his lap, but with his affirmative action decision I am very disappointed. I hope God will change his heart."
The Bush administration filed a brief last week asking the Supreme Court to overturn admissions policies at the University of Michigan that give preferences to minorities. The administration said Michigan officials "cannot justify the express consideration of race in their admissions policy."
Jenkins yesterday preached to more than 6,000 congregants, almost all of them African American, at four services.
If there were ever a pulpit for Bush to make his case to African Americans it is this one, the congregants said. Prince George's County is filled with upscale enclaves of black professionals, many of whom have benefited from affirmative action.
First Baptist Church members such as Willie Jolley, a nationally known motivational speaker and businessman, were excited about Bush's visit. But Jolley said he hoped that the president's appearance is more than a photo opportunity. "I hope that the president will see the big vision that Dr. King had," he said.
Charles White, 55, waited yesterday to get tickets to see Bush today. "The president is entitled to his views, but if it were not for these policies, I would not be where I am today," he said.
Jenkins said he hoped Bush would take away something other than just an image of affluent African Americans thriving in a suburban mega-church.
"I am hoping that he will see and have a sense of the work that we are doing to help hurting people," Jenkins said. "Even though Prince George's County has a high percentage of middle-class people, we have a good percentage of hurting people as well."
Evalena Walton of Temple Hills said she had mixed feelings about the president's King Day visit. "I just hope that this will be positive for First Baptist and that this will be a spiritual blessing for someone," she said.
Said White: "It's not really about the president, because in four years, he might be gone. We have had this [holiday] program for many years and it's about honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. It's important for people, especially young people, to [understand] that the struggle continues."